Florida Keys residents are outraged as scientists from British biotech company Oxitec are planning to release 500 million genetically modified male mosquitos along a large part of the Keys in an attempt to kill off an invasive species of mosquito responsible for transmitting deadly diseases like Zika.
Oxitec plans to place boxes full of genetically altered eggs throughout the trial areas. After water is added, the bugs will fly and mate with the females of the invasive species in the area, the Miami Herald reported.
The experiment has divided people who live on the island chain.
About two dozen people gathered in Key Largo to protest the planned experiment in February.
“They have failed in the Caymans. We have proof of that. They have failed in Brazil. We have proof of that,” protester Meagan Hull said.
“They have failed in India, in Malaysia, in Panama. We have proof of that.”
Supporters of the scientific experiment say it’s a way to get rid of the disease-spreading mosquitos, Futurism reported.
However, other residents are not happy and say that their community is part of a petri dish.
“I find this criminal, that we are being bullied into this experiment,” Hull, a resident of Islamorada, said at a March town council meeting.
“I find it criminal that we are being subjected to this terrorism by our own Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board.”
She added, “We have everything to risk, nothing to gain, and it’s all for Oxitec’s bottom line.”
Oxitec has developed a “death mechanism” to ensure no viable female offspring will be born after the invasive population mates with the introduced mosquitos.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency said that if a female mosquito ends up surviving and reproducing, the experiment will be terminated.
Although the company says this outcome is unlikely, some female mosquitos survived during the experiment in Brazil.
Nathan Rose, Oxitec’s head of regulatory affairs, waved off concerns about the experiment.
“Oxitec is not testing on humans and this project is not introducing risk to humans, animals, or the environment, as stated by the EPA,” Rose said.
Islamorada resident Virginia Donaldson decided she didn’t want to participate in the experiment and cut down the installed cup of eggs on her property.
A neighbor later told Futurism that he saw mosquito control workers on Donaldson’s property looking for the cup.
“So they’re trespassing, they’re soliciting, they’re going on people’s property,” Donaldson said. “They’re not making appointments to meet with people. So they are definitely violating our privacy.”
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